By: Danny Buck
“There is no love apart from the deeds of love; no potentiality of love other than that which is manifested in loving; there is no genius other than that which is expressed in works of art.” -Jean-Paul Sartre
I begin with a quote from a lecture given in 1946 by a renowned atheist because it is, paradoxically, an undeniably Christian sentiment; one that modern evangelicals actually bruit with pride. It rephrases—in unnecessarily dense language, yes—the modern adage that love is not a feeling, but an action.
A later example he gives to expound on his point centers around courage. A man can sit on his couch and ponder great deeds, but none are courage until the man (or woman) actually acts.
It is the same with love. I can think as many romantic thoughts as I want about my girlfriend, but they remain thoughts and emotions, passing sentiments only, until they manifest into real action. I can imagine grabbing a drink and hashing through some of life’s difficulties with my roommate, but that remains in my imagination, no actual love, until I grab him, buy him a beer, and ask him how he’s doing. Feelings and passions are not love. Actions are love.
I begin this short little blog post with this argument about love, because it is something we all already agree on. It is not revolutionary. It is biblical. Jesus was love and love is this: that he died for us, an action. We are all ready and willing to accept love as action and yet we leave Faith to be something abstract. It is something only to be felt and thought about. Faith left this way, I would argue, is a sorry thing.
Take a young driver. They have recently completed a driver’s ed course and they took it very seriously. They can tell you in great detail about how to drive, the function of the regulator within the engine, the stopping distance of a car, how to accurately change lanes, and the response time of the nearest ambulance. And yet they have never actually driven a car.
I’ll return to this analogy in a bit, but for now perhaps a short narrative from my own life would exemplify my point best. Right now I am a student teacher. Everyday I show up to work and instruct a diverse classroom of youngsters. However, on my breaks I spend my time surfing the internet for jobs in education.
Currently, I am a rather successful teacher for the demographics of students in my classroom. They are engaged during lessons and come hang out during lunch—a sign that kids like you. As I am searching for jobs, though, a variety of positions in the country, suburbs, and urban settings keep popping up. More than once, though, I have genuinely considered dropping it all and going to work at EPIC.
But that move, that settling into a comfy career, is a lack of faith for me. As a man who called to follow through education, to settle is to not follow. When I consider working in an urban school, I shutter because I don’t have faith that God will guide my instruction. If I go to work in the suburbs, I lack faith that God will make use of my work in an affluent environment. And so I am tempted to run. I am tempted to sit around putting off this step until I have read enough educational literature to ensure I can pull this off by my own merits. I am tempted by other jobs in which I know I will be successful.
Lets return to the analogy of the car. The man is not a driver. He is the anxious man who cannot act, who cannot bring himself to an action of faith. Although he can tell you in detail every aspect of the car and will tell you with his mouth that he trusts it, his faith in that car in nothing until he drives it. Until he experiences the slick of an icy road or must drive through gale force winds to his destination and chooses to keep going, until then his faith is but a passing thought.
When called to be disciples, Jesus begins not with believe, but with follow. It is this call and decision to follow in this world that is faith, not an intellectual ascent. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who fought the Nazi regime, says: “the disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity.” It is here that we find faith. Only when we experience the troubles of this real world and continue forward, trusting in God, do we develop and express faith. Only then can we learn to have faith in God for our very lives.
Simply acting, though, does not guarantee faith. Peter exemplifies this little paradox well when he was called out onto the water. Although he was already a disciple, he was called again to follow. Jesus commanded him to have faith and take a step onto the water, into uncertainty. And he followed. So why does he sink and why does Christ seem to suggest that Peter didn’t have faith?
He was afraid. Like someone who follows the career path to which they are called, but wakes up every day still scared they will be a failure. They follow Christ’s command, but they have not chosen to have faith that he will watch over their life. Scared he will either leave them or lead them into darkness. And so Peter sank.
Part II coming soon! How love and faith impact who Christ IS.